I wasn’t surprised
that Mrs. Baker, my client,
when she opened the door
and saw me standing there,
in my uniform,
my equipment in hand.
After about a second,
she registered that looking surprised
was kind of rude,
so she shook her head
almost imperceptibly and smiled.
“Please, come in,” she beckoned.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
I put shoe covers on,
as I’m directed to do in nicer houses.
I must admit,
in the real shitholes, I don’t bother.
The Bakers were doing really well, though.
definitely not putting in 12-hour shifts
at the lanthanum mines.
I imagined Mr. Baker being a top manager,
answering important video calls importantly,
in his starched dress shirt.
Or maybe he was even a bigwig
in colony government,
collecting a big salary and even bigger bribes.
But it’s silly for me to be sexist.
Mrs. Baker could be equally well employed,
a top surgeon, for example.
or one of those biologists
with high security clearances.
Anyway, these are the things I thought about
when I was standing awkwardly in her foyer,
waiting for her to show me where the problem was,
the kitchen, for example,
or the storage shed.
“Come this way,” she offered, then paused.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“I just wasn’t expecting…”
“A woman?” I answered for her,
and she nodded.
“I don’t mean to be…” she began.
“No, no, it’s okay. I grew up on a farm,”
I said, and that seemed to be
a sufficient explanation.
She opened a door that led
to a flight of stairs leading down, down to
I had never even seen a basement
in all my life.
And not just a gray concrete
but it was a whole other living space,
with couches and a bar
and a dartboard and a television
and a bathroom and a guest room
with its own little bed
and plastic children’s toys
scattered on the floor
of a separate play area,
but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I couldn’t see all that at first,
but just the stairs leading down,
and Mrs. Baker said,
“I can’t go down there,
“I can’t go down there,
I hope you understand…”
“Of course, Ma’am,” I replied.
“I’m sure I’ll find my way around.”
She smiled with shaking hands,
and I put a hand on her shoulder,
and I normally never touch people,
but I looked right in her eyes and said,
“It’ll be okay, ma’am, I promise.”
As she closed the door after me,
I walked slowly down the stairs,
flamethrower at the ready.
A shame I’d probably have to torch
all this nice stuff.
But the leather couches and mahogany chairs
were covered in poisonous green bile
and the shells of molting giant spewing roaches.
I heard a quiet scratching just behind me
and turned to face the darkness.
It was standing erect on two legs,
so it towered above me,
hissing growing louder
as it sensed the danger,
venom dripping from its mouth.
I could hear it preparing to regurgitate.
If any of that shit touched any part of my skin,
it would melt into a black, bubbly tar,
and I would never heal.
So looking it in its black alien eyes,
I torched it, heart beating a little faster
but otherwise outwardly calm.
Because I am an exterminator,
and I am damn good at it.